Everyone is standing lined up on the start line. The Le Mans style start will play well to me; I am not strictly a cyclist and I run very regularly. I have some nerves going right now, but that’s good. As soon as I get on the bike everything will calm down and settle in. It is just like a plane taking off. You start off shaking and lurching, working through the turbulence. Then you hit cruising altitude and settle in. This race is just like that.
The count down is at one minute.
I settle into an easy pace and let the others run themselves into the ground. It’s only a quarter mile run to the bikes, and this won’t win or lose the race. That time will come during the night. A few elbows here and there, a u-turn around the course tape and we are back to the bikes. I pick mine up and jump on. Everyone is scrambling to get into the woods first. My biggest concern right now is not getting carried away. I hate letting people pass me, but I’m in it for the long haul and most of the racers are on teams or are planning on sleeping during the night. I have no such plans.
The single track starts. Left hand turn and then a nice little drop to get the groove going. We make it to the first rock section with people trying to pass on all sides. It’s a madhouse and I cannot see a line that I want to ride. I jump off my bike cyclocross style, running the section with my bike over my shoulder and jump back on. Things are starting to settle down and it feels almost like a nice group ride. I’m chatting with the other racers riding in line and having a blast.
We pop out of the woods and head onto our first big climb. I can already tell climbing and endurance are going to be my strength during this race; lots of the racers are better riders, but I can make the time up on climbs and by not stopping. There is a little descent, a short climb and we are on to the second section of the race. This part of the course is listed as black (expert) advance single track. They are not joking. I clear the first section with a very little finesse and a little bit more white knuckling and clenched butt cheeks. We round the corner quickly and I am leading this pack. I quickly scan for a line and see a large rock to go up and over that looks clear on the other side. It looked clear, but as I climb the rock, I see the other side is actually a drop onto medium sized rocks. Not good.
I have the choice of dropping the center of my bike on these rocks and possibly ruining my crank or bailing. I make a split second decision to bail. I lock up the breaks. My feet are still clipped in. This is going to be bad. I end up over my handle bars still clipped in and land on the rocks. My right knee and forearm take the brunt of the impact. It’s unpleasant, but I’ve had worse. It isn’t even close to stopping me. I jump up quickly and try to get back on my bike. The seat is facing to the right and the handle bars to the left.
“This is going to be a long day,” I say to myself as I get moving again. I still have nine or so miles to get back to the pits and have my bike straightened out. I get out of the technical rock section and back on double track; a little climbing then a little descending. Then I hit the the third section of trails, which instantly reminds me of the forbidden forest in Harry Potter. Here I am, at 10:30 in the morning, surrounded by gnarly trees with almost no light cutting through the branches. I’m still pedaling onward.
Some tight twists and turns and we are on to check point Charley. This place is raging with fun. They have techno house music playing, a 6th barrel of beer on tap and they are grilling out brats and burgers. That’s enticing on most days, but today I’m racing, so I just zoom by and yell “Oww oWWWWWWW!” The guys cheer like we’re old friends and I am on my way.
Up and down some rolling double track and we are on to the last three mile section. This is a super fun pump track section with berms thrown in for good measure. I am relaxing and enjoying myself. The only things bothering me are my twisted seat rubbing my butt cheeks weird and having to over steer right to go straight. Still, I’m having fun. I pop out on the last little bit of double track. I take a Quick left, then a quick right and I am back at the start/finish line. I ride around the island of trees and yell again “Oww oWWWWWWW!” I finish the lap and hit the pit area. My first lap is 75 minutes. Nathan, my coach, is there to get me whatever I need. I eat and drink while my water pack is being filled and Matt the mechanic is fixing my bike. Two minutes and I am set and out on another lap. No time is wasted.
At this point, I am really starting to settle in. I’m watching my heart rate and keeping it between 140 and 145 beats per minute. Super chill. I groove through section one, make the big climb and hit the rock garden that is section two. I still cannot find a good line that I am comfortable riding. I ride what I can and walk what I have to. Again, I’m in this for the long haul, not risking a huge wreck to save thirty seconds. Slow is smooth, smooth is steady, and steady is fast. A guy blasts by me. He is also racing the 24 solo. He is riding crazy lines and falling off his bike, throwing caution to the wind. I pass him as he tries to get back on his bike. He goes off trail to pass me. We hit the next rock section and he hammers straight and fast as long as he can only to fly off his bike again. I tell him, “Slow is smooth, smooth is steady, and steady is fast.” He yells, “FAST IS FAST BRO!” It’s his ride and he can do it as he pleases. A few minutes later, I pass him at the next aid station. I cruise on through to the end of the lap. Nice and consistent. 77 minutes.
The real race starts when the sun goes down. It doesn’t matter if I can ride ten laps before sundown if I have to sleep all night before I can ride again. I stick to my game plan. I am mentally breaking the lap into four sections. First flow section when I leave. Rock Garden; when I get done with this section my risk of wrecking is greatly reduced. Enchanted Forest is the half way point. Check Point Charley and then I am into the final flow section.
The sun is going down and I am staying consistent. I am only adding 2-4 minutes to my lap each time around. Now that the sun is down, I take off my heart rate monitor and watch. I don’t care what my body is doing. My only goals are to keep moving, take short breaks, and make it straight through the night.
I keep moving. Ride a lap. Hit the pits. Talk to Nate, drink cold coffee, and then get back on the course. Everything is smooth.
I look down and see that the power indicator on my light is red. This isn’t good. It should last for 7 hours and I am not even on hour 4. I really have to pee but, I want to make it back without relying solely on my helmet light. I tie my junk in the proverbial knot and get to riding. I make it a good 15 minutes, but still have 20 to get back. All of a sudden I hit a huge root. The seat slams into my gooch and I relax and let a whole penis worth of pee shoot into my shorts. Fudge. I give in and stop to pee. Back on to the bike. I still have to get back to the pits to switch batteries. A few short minutes later the battery dies. I’m stuck with just the headlamp. My eyes adjust well until another rider comes by with a bright light. Then I have to slow down and let them readjust. I make it back, switch the battery and get back out there.
I’m actually not feeling bad at all. It’s well after midnight and sleep isn’t knocking at the door or anywhere in the neighborhood for that matter. It is getting quiet out in the woods; everyone must be sleeping. The 12 hour riders are gone now and the 24 hour riders are either spread out or somewhere else. I can hear the woman who has been squeaking the rubber chicken off in the distance; it has been pretty nice to see her smiling face out there. I have being making terrible jokes about the chicken all day. I ride by her and she smiles and says I am looking strong. I am feeling pretty good other than my lower back is getting fatigued from all of the bumps and roots.
A little time goes by and I see an owl standing in the middle of the trail. I catch this with just enough time to think “SHIT!” and hit the brakes. There is no owl there. I shake it off and keep riding. I don’t feel tired. Is my brain getting tired? It has to be around 4:00 in the morning now. I see a rider sitting on the side of the trail staring off into nowhere with his light blazing. I ask if he is okay, he says yes and that his eyes are just tired. I keep pedaling. Then he passes me with blazing speed. I find him a minute later sitting on the side of the trail staring into nowhere. I pass him again. This repeats a couple more times. I finally tell him that he should probably get some sleep. He is getting mentally tired and maybe my suggestion will get him to stop for a while. Less racers to compete against. He says he is fine and rides by me once again. I leave the technical section thirty seconds later and turn left up the hill. I should be able to see him, but he is gone completely. No lights, no sound. I am completely alone. Did I imagine him? Was he me wanting to quit or did he bail into the woods to sleep. I shine my headlight around as I ride and see no signs of him at all. I have to keep moving.
I get to the start/finish line and let out my calling card howl “Oww oWWWWWWW!” No one is at the timing station. I am damn near the only person still awake. I head toward the pit area and see Nate shine his headlamp at me. He has been sleeping by the fire for an hour at a time and getting up to prep everything for me when I get back. I am not really sleepy that I know of and the sun is about to come back up. My buddy Rick has just returned to the race from getting stitches from wrecking in the night. My lights are both about to die. I switch out my headlamp and Rick offers me a light for my handlebars. We make the switch and I am on my way. The sun will be up in 45 minutes.
I ride off into the woods. The bumps in the trail shake the handle bar light and it points down. I push it up. Then my helmet light falls, I push it up. This is happening ever couple minutes. I get pissed and take the handle bar light off and throw it in my pack. Now I just have to adjust my helmet light every time I hit a bump. I repeat this process until the sun comes up. I’m starting to feel weird. I’m not sleepy. My body is aching but my mind is strong. I don’t know what’s wrong. I cannot will this feeling away. I am happy to be out here. I don’t feel hungry. Maybe my blood sugar is low. I eat a GU pack. Nothing changes. I am at what feels like a snail pace now. I quickly drink all of the water in my pack. Nothing changes. I cannot shake this. I am dreaming of making it to Check Point Charley to get one of those burgers. When I get close I cannot hear any music. Everyone is asleep. I don’t have the energy or will power to walk the 100 feet to the grill and check if there is food. I eat one of the bars that are laying on the table and refill my water pack. I feel strange. I slowly make it back to the pit area.
When I arrive, Nate tells me that I am in 6th place with the 5th place person right around me somewhere. If I go now, I can beat him. I have to sit and cover my face for a minute. I look like I am crying with my face covered, but I’m just trying to make myself feel normal again. I eat two Oatmeal cream pies and drink half a Powerade. It feels like garbage in my stomach. I have to get up and move if I want to get 5th. I have to. Back hurting, head spinning, and stomach feeling like hell, I hit the course for another lap. As soon as I turn the corner, I start burping uncontrollably and at random intervals. Every burp is followed by puke. I stop the first few times so I don’t get it on me or the bike. After that, I stop caring; I puke right onto my handlebars and fork, on my race number and sometimes on myself. It might sound gross, but it’s actually making me feel better. I get my groove back but have very little left in the tank to push hard. I go through the motions I’ve completed so many times in the previous 24 hours. I see the fifteen year old kid that I rode with yesterday for a while. He is a great rider. I actually haven’t seen him all night. I ask how he is doing and what lap he is on. He says he is 3 or 4 laps behind me. Good. I don’t know that I could win a sprint right now. He pedals on and I keep riding my pace. There is only a mile left. An older guy with a 24 hour race number on starts to pass me. This has to be that guy who is in 5th. I ask him what lap he is on. He stares. I ask again and he ignores me and picks up the pace. We are on the final 1/4 smooth stretch to the finish. I guess it will come down to a sprint finish for 5th after all. I put down the hammer and give everything I have left to crush this old man’s soul. He gives up the chase and I coast across the line in 6th place. The person that I needed to hold is actually the 15 year old that casually passed me and said he was a few laps back. Well played little man. Well played.
I slowly pedal to the pit area and lay on the ground. My back hurts, I am starting to get sleepy and I really want a beer. I can’t stomach a beer. I am just going to lay here for a bit.
195 miles in 24:20. 6th in solo men’s category and 45th overall including teams. Average break between laps 6.7 minutes. Average lap 90 minutes. Fastest lap 75 minutes. Slowest 120 minutes.
I feel very strongly about the results of this race. I didn’t hit the mileage goal that I set, but that is perfectly fine. I gave it an honest all out effort and learned about where I can improve. I am going to focus on these weaknesses and bring them in line with everything else.